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Ad Hominem Won't Drive Change

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Ad Hominem Won't Drive Change

Managers are often blamed for failing to adopt agile, often through name calling and ad hominem. This will do nothing for your organization.

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It’s been a crazy few weeks for me.

Three weeks ago I was Nicaragua working on water systems for a non-profit my family and I support. Two weeks ago I was in Washington, DC for the Agile2015 conference. Last week I was digging out from the previous two weeks with clients and our ever expanding sales pipeline. This week I’m bouncing around the country talking to prospects while trying to sneak a quick trip to Gainesville to drop my middle son off for his freshman year of college.

Kinda nuts, but I digress…

In between the week in Nicaragua and the week at Agile2015, I got to spend a day at the Agile Coaches Camp also in DC. One of the sessions I proposed and facilitated was on impediments to large scale agile transformation. Go figure, huh? Of course I have my own ideas around the kinds of things that get in the way of large scale agile transformations, but I wanted to start by talking to the group and getting an idea of what they thought was important.

I was kinda blown away.

It seemed like everyone thought the problems adopting agile in large organizations came down to managers not being open to doing agile. The thinking was that managers were too command and control. That managers were not agile enough. That companies didn’t have an agile culture, that no one was willing to inspect and adapt, or that no one was willing to respond to change. Everything was about how managers were getting in the way.

Here is a question for you…

What if managers were actually open to doing agile? What if managers didn’t want to be command and control? What if managers were agile enough, and were willing to build an agile culture, were willing to inspect and adapt, and desperately wanted to respond to change… but what if they didn’t know how? What if the environment around them had real barriers to adopting agile and what if all they wanted was guidance toward how to remove them?

What would you tell them? Go forth and self-organize?

What is your answer when an organization has contractual obligations committing them to 10 times more work than they can actually do?

What is your answer when formal business processes are hopelessly entangled?

What is your answer when legacy architectures are full of technical debt and there is insufficient automation…or a regular build… let alone continuous integration?

What do you do when there aren’t enough people to staff complete cross functional teams or governance and regulation get in the way?

Stop the ad hominem attacks

I think we need to stop labelling people, stop the ad hominem attacks on management… and if we are serious about helping companies adopt agile in a meaningful way… start figuring out strategies for helping managers solve the real issues effecting real companies with real business problems to solve. It’s the system these folks are living in that is driving the behavior you are seeing in large organizations. We can’t change attitude unless we fix the systems.

Help me get there

Our industry has an absolute fixation on end-state. We continue to iterate on SAFe and LeSS and DaD and Scrum. We talk about Beyond Budgeting, The Future of Management, and Holocracy. The problem we have right now, with the companies reading these books, isn’t that the end-state isn’t understood… it’s that they can’t see how to take their existing organizations, with their existing models, and existing constraints… and find a way to transition to the new model.

They need help understanding what the intermediate states look like.

It’s easy to tell a child who can’t swim to jump in a pool and swim.

It’s easy to tell an overweight teenager to be healthy and loose weight.

It’s easy to point to the goal and call names when someone can’t seem to achieve it.

The hard part is meeting people where they are and helping them craft a strategy for getting where they need to be…even where they want to be… but just can’t seem to find a way to get there. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the end state isn’t the problem… it’s the transition patterns. It’s the change management. It’s helping companies make progress, and still deliver, while they are changing.

Name calling and ad hominem attacks don’t help.

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agile ,agile adoption ,management

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